United Announces Big MileagePlus Changes

United Polaris Lounge

Yesterday, United Airlines announced changes to the award prices required for many MileagePlus redemptions. On top of that, they made some changes to their no-show fee on award tickets and dropped their Standard level awards for new “Everyday Awards.”

It seems we’re getting used to bad news from airlines these days, especially as it relates to award travel. Delta Air Lines devalued their partner awards overnight without notice, Virgin Atlantic devalued their award chart for flights on Delta, and Etihad cut one of their coolest perks for premium cabin passengers: chauffeur service. (Admittedly, this Etihad change won’t affect everyone, but it was a little extra bonus that made the luxury travel experience even more fun!)

Unlike many recent airline devaluations, United at least gave us 4 months notice. While others might take a happy tone about this implementation timeline, we believe keeping customers aware of changes should be standard operating procedure, not something special.

Now, let’s dive into what each of these changes means for you going forward.

Everyday Awards

United is introducing “Everyday Awards” to take the place of standard level awards. This new award level will apply to flights operated by United and United Express, but not United’s partners.

Everyday Awards will have a set upper limit to award prices, but mileage costs will fluctuate depending on the flight. This seems similar to the way Delta has been operating their entire SkyMiles program for the last couple years.

We wouldn’t be surprised to see Everyday Award redemption levels pegged to the price of a particular flight in the future, though we hope United will resist the urge to destroy their program by going to revenue-based redemptions.

Changes to Premium Cabin Awards

Unsurprisingly, the MileagePlus program changes hit first and business class redemptions the hardest. This has long been a trend with airlines when they devalue their award charts.

United First Class and Business Class Awards

New United Award Chart
Between updated Saver level award rates and the new Everyday Awards, there are lots of changes to United’s MileagePlus program.

The award rats for premium cabin travel are increasing whether you’re flying across the country or across the ocean.

While Saver level domestic first class awards will continue to cost 25,000 miles one-way in the continental U.S. and 40,000 miles one-way to Hawaii, routes with premium service are seeing increases.

United operates premium service flights with lie-flat business class seats on 3 transcontinental routes: Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) to Newark (EWR), and San Francisco to Boston (BOS). A one-way business class Saver award for this premium service flight will now cost 35,000 miles.

Currently, you can fly premium service United flights to Hawaii from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), Newark (EWR), and Washington-Dulles (IAD). These premium service flights will now cost 50,000 miles for a one-way flight in business class.

Award costs for international first and business class flights are also being increased. Fortunately, these increases are rather modest: most business class flights are only seeing a bump of 2,500 to 5,000 miles. First class is hit a bit harder with award costs jumping 5,000 to 20,000 miles.

Origin/DestinationBusiness Class Before Nov. 1Business Class
After Nov. 1  
First Class
Before Nov. 1
First Class
After Nov. 1
U.S., Alaska, Canada25k35k35k35k
Hawaii40k50k50k50k
Southern S. America55k60k70k80k
Europe57.5k60k80k80k
Central/South Africa70k70k85k90k
Middle East70k75k90k90k
Central Asia70k75k90k90k
South Asia70k75k80k95k
North Asia70k70k80k90k
Japan65k70k80k90k
Oceania65k70k80k90k
Australia/New Zealand70k80k80k100k

The increases to United first class awards are less of a concern since it is slowly being phased out in favor of their new Polaris business class product.

Also, travelers who regularly book economy Saver awards will be happy to know that these rates remained the same.

Star Alliance Awards to and From the U.S.

Partner awards did not escape the latest devaluation either. Several routes to and from the U.S. will see increases in both business class and first class award rates.

All in all, these increases were modest with several awards increasing between 5,000 and 10,000 miles.

Origin/DestinationBusiness Class Before Nov. 1Business Class After Nov. 1First Class Before Nov. 1First Class After Nov. 1
Southern S. America55k60k70k80k
Middle East80k85k140k140k
Central Asia80k85k140k140k
South Asia80k90k130k140k
Japan7580k110k110k
Oceania75k80k110k110k
Australia/New Zealand80k90k130k130k

Those who enjoy flying on Star Alliance partners to Europe will be relieved to see that this route was left untouched for now.

Bottom Line: The changes to partner awards could have been much worse. There’s still a lot of value in United’s partner award chart!

Star Alliance Awards Abroad

The worst of United’s award chart devaluations took place for partner awards on routes that don’t involve the continental U.S. Here, business class awards were increased by up to 20,000 miles while first class awards were increased by up to 25,000 miles.

The first class award getting the most talk is Thai Airways from Bangkok to Sydney. Thai Airways’ first class lounge is famous for their hour-long full body massages. Sadly, first class on this route will see an increase from 40,000 miles to 65,000 miles come November.

Short-Haul Saver Awards in Economy

A bright spot in these changes is the new award level for international partner flights of 800 miles or less. Rather than the current rates (which can be up to 20,000 miles for one-way in economy class), you will be able to book them for 8,000 miles.

This is similar to how United treats short domestic flights in the U.S. of less than 700 miles: they cost 10,000 miles for a one-way economy class ticket.

No-Show Redeposit Fee (Including United Elites)

All travelers will be required to pay a no-show fee of $125 to redeposit their miles if they decide not to travel and don’t cancel their booking prior to their scheduled flight. Whether you’re a general MileagePlus member or a United 1K elite, this will apply to you.

This is a positive change to the program since it will incentivize those who can’t make a flight from holding the award space that others could use.

Final Thoughts

Award chart devaluations are never fun and usually hurt a lot more than this one. The loss of a cherished redemption on Thai Airways certainly hurts for those who like to get creative with their trips abroad, but United’s changes to award rates to/from the U.S. were not too onerous.

While we never like to see devaluations, we hope other airlines will show their customers a similar level of respect going forward by giving plenty of advance notice for changes.

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